MANILA, OCTOBER 21, 2013 (MANILA STANDARD) By Maricel Cruz - Solons insist: no to standby fund.

The Aquino administration has a lot of explaining to do first before it can tap savings to funnel these into areas damaged by the recent earthquake in Visayas and the flooding in Mindanao, administration critics said on Saturday.

Malacanang and the Department of Budget and Management should account for billions of pesos in calamity funds allocated under the 2013 national budget, said Rep. Carlos Zarate of the Bayan Muna party list.

The savings exceeded P8 billion including some P1 billion in savings last year, according to Zarate’s estimate.

This developed as administration allies on Saturday backed the Palace’s plan to use state savings to augment the calamity and contingency funds which the government claimed is about to be depleted.

Zarate, a member of the House minority bloc, said President Benigno Aquino III and his allies should refrain from using calamities as an excuse to justify the retention of the ‘‘unconstitutional’ Disbursement Acceleration Program.

“The DBM and Malacanang should account first where and how this year’s calamity fund of P7.5 billion was already used up,” Zarate, a lawyer, told the MST Sunday.

“What about last year’s unused fund balance of 1.038 billion?” Zarate asked. “While we understand the need to provide immediate funds for assistance relief and rehab of the affected areas in Central Visayas, this should not be used as an excuse to continue this unconstitutional DAP,” Zarate added.

Zarate said that only an autocratic leader would inexorably resort to using ‘standby’ fund despite legal questions on it.

(DAP is pooled savings from unused budgetary items or lower-than-expected expenses of state agencies.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad earlier said that DAP was introduced in 2011 to “ramp up spending and help accelerate economic expansion.”)

Another Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares, citing data posted on the DBM website, said Malacanang has only spent P1.404 billion of their P7.5 billion calamity fund.

“This does not include the P3.4 billion in Quick Response Fund in various agencies, and the P14 billion school building fund of DPWH to rebuild schools,” Colmenares said as he also demanded an audit of the calamity fund.

He said “the government should not use the sad plight of the people of Bohol and Cebu in its obsession to the DAP and presidential pork,” Colmenares said.

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. Belmonte said that the government can use the savings to augment the calamity and contingency funds in order to deliver the relief services as soon as possible.

“If the calamity and social funds are depleted, certainly savings should be deployed immediately,” Belmonte told the MST Sunday.

Magdalo party-list Rep. Ashley Acedillo also thumbed down the Palace’s pronouncement to tap the savings to aid the quake victims in Bohol and Cebu and other provinces and cities in Visayas and Mindanao.

Instead of using the savings, Acedillo said the Palace can ask Congress to pass a special appropriations bill for the purpose so that everything will be in order and that every centavo will be properly accounted for.

“All of these without resorting to potentially contentious measures, like the one now facing the administration with regard to DAP,” he added.

Acedillo also said in light of several petitions against the legality of DAP, the government should refrain from using realigned savings as a source of funds in the recent calamities that hit the country.

But Belmonte expressed belief that the government would be able to use the savings judiciously for calamities as the Commission on Audit (COA) can do a special audit after or simultaneously while the funds are being utilized.

“We should act fact and savings have always been the standby sources to augment other resources,” Belmonte said.

The Speaker also said there is no need for a supplemental budget when it comes to providing assistance to the victims of Cebu and Bohol earthquake.

Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr., AKO-Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe, Paranaque Rep. Gustavo Tambunting and Akbayan party-list Rep. Walden Bello, for their part, said that the government needs not to wait for the COA to conduct an audit on how the calamity funds under the Office of the President was used before it could actually make use of funds available such as DAP.

“By their very nature, they are emergencies and therefore the government has to act immediately,” Barzaga said.

Batocabe said the country is “in emergency situation and it requires quick and immediate solutions.”

Batocabe said that unlikely consequences may happen if the government will not do anything quick to address the problem.

“If we keep on waiting for COA to audit first calamity funds or we are paralyzed by the on-going debate on the legality of DAP, victims who are still alive might die soon. And worse, we can foment rebellion in these quake stricken areas,” he said.

He appealed to the critics of President Aquino and his administration “to give full trust and confidence in the president to ensure that help will be delivered where this is needed the most.”

Bello said there are so many ways to ensure that the DAP funds will be properly accounted for when used for calamities.

“I think the government should so ahead and tap DAP since the disasters really brought a lot of damage,” Bello said.

Tambunting said that issue as to whether DAP is legal or not rests with the Supreme Court. “The important thing now is to help victims of the calamity as soon as possible and to make sure the money is being spent for relief and rehabilitation,” Tambunting said.

‘Calamity funds used up’ By Joyce Pangco Panares | Posted on October 19, 2013 at 12:02am | 2,058 views

But Palace claim junked by critics as ploy to tap DAP

Malacañang on Friday announced that the calamity and contingency funds are about to be depleted and the government will have to tap savings to augment these funds.

However, the opposition claimed that Malacañang was only “exploiting” the situation of the quake victims to justify the use of the Disbursement Acceleration Program or DAP.

Several legal luminaries and constitutionalists had described the DAP as “illegal and unconstitutional.”

The Palace declaration also came four days after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake wrought havoc to Bohol and Cebu and other provinces and cities in Visayas and Mindanao.

The quake killed 172 people as of Friday, destroyed centuries-old churches and structures, roads and bridges and affected at least 3 million residents.

Back then, Malacanang said it had enough funds to rehabilitate the affected areas and for provisions for the quake victims.

The Palace, meanwhile, insisted on Friday that the augmentation will not come from the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program.

“Our calamity and contingency funds are about to be depleted. For typhoon Pablo alone, we have to spend P11 billion while our calamity fund is only P7.5 billion,” Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said.

“But we will not get the augmentation from the DAP which is not a funding facility but a mechanism. We will get the augmentation from our savings,” Abad added.

But militant lawmakers said the Palace should stop exploiting the “misfortune of the quake victims in Bohol and Cebu as a justification for the use of the DAP to respond to disaster-related concerns.”

Gabriela party-list Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan said that the Palace’s announcement shows how desperately the Aquino administration clings to the pork barrel system.

“It is a double jeopardy to use the victims as a convenient excuse for the DAP,” Ilagan said.

She said that the executive department has more than enough lump sum funds, including a calamity fund, to respond to natural disasters.

Rep. Neri Colmenares, meanwhile, said it was “insensitive” of President Aquino and his allies to use the sad plight of the quake victims in the Visayas in their drive to maintain the pork barrel system.

Colmenares said the President could not use the DAP to fund the government efforts to help the victims of the earthquake and other disasters, saying his office under the 2013 budget, has huge funds, including his P 7.5 billion calamity fund, which he said are more than enough to meet the needs of the victims.

For his part, Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza said that the government—through the DSWD has enough resources to ably help the victims of calamities, and that there is no need to source funds from the so-called DAP.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, however, opined that it was about time to thaw the “frozen pork” and use it to help the victims of the earthquake, Santi typhoon and the Zambaonga City siege.

Recto said he wants to convert the controversial Presidential Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), commonly called “pork barrel” into a “Priority Disaster Assistance Fund.”

He said the ‘unreleased portion” of the lawmakers’ pork barrel for this year can be used to help victims of the recent disasters that ravaged the country.

Isabela Rep. Rodito Albano, an opposition, said he sees nothing wrong with the Palace’s wish to use the DAP funds for disaster and calamity response efforts.

“There should be no any excuse when it comes to helping people. As long as the help, or the money, would reach to them properly, political color does not matter,” said Albano, an opposition.

In Seoul, President Benigno Aquino III welcomed the statement of Senate Committee on Finance chairman Francis Escudero that they will approve a resolution increasing this year’s calamity fund to cover the mas-sive rehabilitation that will be needed for the areas affected by the earthquake as well as for the victims of typhoon Santi.

“We would like to thank the Senate if they’re gonna give us that elbow room. But the first step is total the expenses that we will require,” Aquino said.

On the issue on the repair of the damaged centuries-old churches, Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte, meanwhile, said the National Commission on Culture and the Arts will spearhead their restoration.

“Now we just have to sift through which ones have been declared heritage sites,” Valte said.

The HCS said at 10 churches were damaged by the killer earthquake, including the Church of San Pedro Apostol, Church of Our Lady of Light, Santissima Trinidad Parish, Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, San Nicolas Church, and Santa Cruz Parish Church in Bohol and Basilica Minore del Santo Niño, Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, and the St. Catherine’s Church in Cebu.

But Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, a prominent Catholic church leader, said that they do not expect any “significant help” from the government in restoring quake-damaged heritage churches and would rely mostly to the faithful and private sectors.

Palma said the archdiocese would shoulder the bulk of the costs in rehabilitating the ruined churches because they are only expecting a minimal help from the government.

“In many repairs, if we really look at it, the government does not give much. In many of the repairs of the heritage churches, the government only gives minimally,” Palma said.

“For us, the people will find a way to rebuild the church. It may take a long time but still the people will find a way,” Palma added. With Macon R. Araneta and Maricel V. Cruz

DAP is PNoy's 'pork', former budget chief Diokno says October 2, 2013 10:19pm

Former Department of Budget and Management Secretary Benjamin Diokno questions legality of DAP. "Illegal in the sense na yun nga, yung pag-generate nila ng savings, questionable yun. At pangalawa, yung pagka-apply nila ng pera, kasi maliwanag sa Saligang Batas that it has to be in a program, activity or project that is already in the General Appropriations Act. So kung new project yun, bawal yun.” (UNTV News)

Former budget secretary Benjamin Diokno said Wednesday that President Benigno Aquino II created his own pork barrel by forming the Development Acceleration Program (DAP) fund and realigning savings to non-existent budget items in the General Appropriations Act without the approval of Congress.

In a report aired on GMA News' “24 Oras,” Diokno explained that the DAP may be considered as Aquino’s own pork since he controls where the money will be spent.

The P72 billion fund came under scrutiny after allegations surfaced that it was used by Aquino as a reward for lawmakers to impeach former Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Senator Jinggoy Estrada said in a privilege speech last week that senators who voted to Corona received P50 million in additional funds. House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. admitted days later that House representatives also got P10 million each after Corona was ousted but denied the amount was a bribe.

Budget secretary Florencio Abad insisted Wednesday, however, that the DAP was never tapped by the administration for "bribes" to lawmakers to oust Corona in May last year.

In a statement, the Department of Budget Management (DBM) said that the DAP was created as a "spending mechanism… to ramp up expenditures in the wake of sluggish spending."

But Diokno said Aquino’s intent for creating the DAP might have been political instead of economic.

“[The executive branch] created a budget within the budget para makapagbigay sila ng amount [sa lawmakers]. Sa tingin ko pulitika yung reason doon kasi sila (executive) ang namimili kung sino ang makakatanggap [ng pera],” he said.

Constitutional expert Father Joaquin Bernas said the creation of the DAP to fund new budget items is unconstitutional because the law limits the president to realign savings only in existing budget items.

Article 6, Section 25 of the Constitution states that “the President… may, by law be authorized to augment any item in the general appropriations law for their respective offices from savings in other items of their respective appropriations.”

“The word used in the law is ‘to augment savings.’ This means that that there are already items which can be augmented and this also means that you cannot create new items. If you create new items, it means you’re already making an appropriation. That can be done only by Congress,” he said.

Diokno said his own scrutiny of the DAP revealed that it was used to fund new budget items such as the following: P750 million assistance to Quezon province P6.5 billion assistance for LGUs P8.6 billion assistance to the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) P1.8 billion assistance to the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)

Bernas said Aquino’s creation of DAP may be considered as a basis for impeachment, but he expressed doubt that any attempt to oust the President will succeed.

Pwede rin [maging ground yun for impeachment]. Pero mahirap ang impeachment lalo na dahil kontrolado ni PNoy ang Congress,” he said. - XA/ELR, GMA News

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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